Home : Archive : TSV 61-70 : TSV 61 : Review

The Genocide Machine

Reviewed by Alistair Hughes

Widely recognised, often ridiculed, sometimes abused but every new appearance always eagerly anticipated, even in the 21st century the Daleks still attract a special fascination. Bitter experience has shown, however, that an adventure with the Daleks in it is not always a great, or even a good story. So bearing in mind that The Genocide Machine is an Audio Adventure, the absence of glossy visuals makes the twin criteria of a good yarn and a worthy use of the Daleks all the more crucial — there are extreme penalties for failing the Daleks, (and their many fans).

Ace and the Seventh Doctor aren't everyone's cup of tea, but after the initial exaggerated rrrolling of Rrrrrr's and other laboured season 24 ‘quirks’, McCoy settles down to give one of his best performances as the Doctor, ever. We get a seemingly older, more reflective and vulnerable version of the Seventh Doctor, a likeable pensiveness replacing the then-trendy cold omniscience of the nineties. Sophie Aldred gives us a very young and fresh-sounding Ace, but her other part in this story sounds very like an audition for David Banks best-known role. Of the two main supporting characters, Chief Librarian Elgin is a delight to listen to from beginning to end, whereas Bev Tarrant (spot the Nation-ism) only made me want to count the scene where she receives a good hard slap as one of my favourites.

With the absence of visual marvels, something I look for in the audio adventures, like science fiction novels, is the ‘Big Idea’ — a concept which is new and intriguing, even outside the context of Doctor Who. The machine of the title is such a concept — providing motivation for almost all the characters and an atrocity that makes the Daleks' machinations seem almost justifiable by comparison. We also get compelling scenarios, exciting cliffhangers and a plot which cranks the suspense up gradually before suddenly and smoothly taking off, aided by the usual excellent standard of effects and music we've come to expect from these productions. And even humour too, eh, Mr Prink?

But on to the main attraction — Dalek fans will not be disappointed by this story. From the first murmur of that absurdly familiar Dalek control room ‘heartbeat’, the Daleks are back in style, re-elevated to their pre- (or is it post-) Davros glory and sounding great — scary even. Notable are the ‘James Earl Jones’ Dalek Emperor, the ‘scratched CD’ Dalek Test Subject and the unintentionally hilarious ‘rogue Dalek’. Dalek continuity is lovingly but not slavishly adhered to and ‘basics’ are skillfully revisited. The horribly effective massacre in episode three will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, a reminder that familiar though they may have become, the Daleks at their most brutal are no laughing matter. The other ‘Big Idea’ contained in this adventure is the conjecture of what might occur when a Dalek attains enormous wisdom, rather than simply data. As the inherent xenophobia of its species is logically rejected, some astounding dialogue is witnessed which I'm certain we never thought would ever be spoken by a Dalek. This plotline epitomises good contemporary Doctor Who writing — imaginatively extending an established concept without betraying its original basis.

Yes, this is a good Dalek story and yes, this is also a good story — thanks to Big Finish it seems that we can have our cake and listen to it, too!

This item appeared in TSV 61 (December 2000).